Written by Bruce Pelz
The Sustainability, Energy & Environment Complex at my alma matar was already filled with exciting displays and buzzing with participants when I arrived at the fifth annual Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) Symposium at the University of Colorado at Boulder last month. The passionate students at the Mortenson Center in Engineering for Developing Communities are the organizers of this impressive and growing conference that is free to the public. In addition to great panel discussions, presentations, and breakout sessions, the WASH Symposium features delicious food, a wonderful reception, and the great tradition of a closing happy hour at a Boulder restaurant. It is exciting for Maji Safi Group (MSG) to have this two-day conference in our own backyard, enabling us to network and discuss changes in the WASH sector with highly qualified professionals from around the world! For me, it was two days of enjoyment and inspiration.
This year, Maji Safi Group was excited to facilitate one of the breakout sessions together with CU Associate Professor Beth Osnes. During the summer of 2016, Beth spent three weeks with Maji Safi Group in Shirati, Tanzania, where she shared her passion for using applied theatre as a tool for women’s empowerment with our Community Health Educators. At the WASH Symposium, we presented on Participatory Methods for Disseminating Vital WASH Health Messages and taught our audience how to create “cliff-hanger dramas” that catalyze community involvement in solving difficult dilemmas. It turned out that we had some fun and quite talented actors in the audience. Laughter and applause were plentiful when the four volunteers performed an impromptu skit that examined the dilemma of a married couple wanting to raise pigs on their property to gain income and status in the community, but doing so would pollute a valuable shared water source. It was a display of personal gain versus consciousness of community health at its finest.
Entertaining skits aside, the WASH Symposium once again provided a high level of discussion, making it impossible to include all the good takeaways in a single blog post. Here are my “10 biggest takeaways” – summarized and in no specific order:
- The panel on The Past Successes and Future Direction of WASH discussed indicators of successful programs and came up with these three common indicators of effectiveness:
- Programs identify and mobilize the local stakeholders that can empower communities to change themselves.
- Programs work together with the government and local partners towards a long-term vision and sustainable solution.
- Programs build the capacity of local leaders and community members to facilitate getting people to pay for WASH products and services.
- Improved health is not always the main motivator for an individual to make behavioral changes; it is also very important to talk about gaining prestige in the community (as seen in the skit above).
- In behavioral change campaigns, it is vital to identify people’s determinants relative to their social position and income level and use these to identify their main motivations.
- Behavioral change is not only a question of knowledge, but also a supply chain issue. It is important for the private sector to get more involved in changing the global WASH crisis through making WASH products available and affordable.
- It is important for beneficiaries and supporters to visit successful projects and feel the impact personally, so they can properly advocate for models that achieve sustainable change in line with their mission.
- iDE’s model for marketing sanitation and combining Salesforce with streamlining supply chains for latrine construction in Southeast Asia was noteworthy. This market-driven approach is innovative and effective in making sanitation more available in developing countries.
- PLAN International’s presentation by Darren Saywell on the implementation of Community Lead Total Sanitation (CLTS) highlighted the importance of ‘natural leaders’ in creating effective changes in communities and making those changes sustainable.
- When teaching about sanitation, it is important to talk about defecation in a broader sense than individual behaviors. Without understanding the effect community-wide habits have on public health, one cannot properly advocate for sanitation and get people to make personal changes.
- Paul Nampy from Haiti’s Water and Sanitation Authority (DINEPA) had a great quote: “During disease outbreaks, you should think like a firefighter and target the most vulnerable areas with the most effective interventions.”
- It is very important that the WASH sector moves towards models of self-supply, because studies have shown that giving people free products and services is not sustainable. There is an ongoing debate on the effectiveness of subsidies for products and services in WASH.
I would like to thank the organizing committee for their dedicated effort to bring WASH professionals and awareness to Colorado as well as the CU at Boulder Engineering School for supporting this annual gathering. Since I first attended this WASH Symposium in 2013, it has been amazing to see the improvements from year to year and the increased attendance. Maji Safi Group is very excited about attending again in March 2018, and we will continue to do our part in the collaborative effort of solving the global WASH crisis and preventing disease!